Mental Illness and Western Medicine

The takeaways I perceived from the schizophrenia in Zanzibar was that it is interpreted differently pertaining to different cultures. Each particular culture has an effect on the services of society and this one was no different. Spirits have a profound impact on the culture and seem to be the cause of mental illnesses. Nearly the entire population in Zanzibar is Muslim and according to the text, “one must bend to Allah’s will, and that a heavenly reward awaits those who embrace with gratitude.” (McGruder 2003, 257) This means that they eradicate themselves of sin based on the hardship they face. Families use traditional forms of treatment, which include botanical trials, therapeutic handling of the Qur’an and spirit ritual treatments. These traditional western medicine techniques are very intriguing and grabbed my attention. Associating both cultural and biological factors into their treatment was very interesting in regard to their explanatory model. This goes to show that culture does matter when it comes to mental illness. Mental health has had a huge impact on our culture and continues to be a major component of our society. The way in which one views mental illnesses as well as understanding the success of separate treatments differs between cultures. Many people experience mental health difficulties but few choose to speak openly to others they don’t know very well. Generally, someone may feel like they are the only one struggling, but it can turn out they’re not. It can be a relief to hear others discuss what they’re going through and realize that they’re not alone. Diversity is also a benefit of group therapy. People have different backgrounds and personalities and they look at the situation in different ways. By seeing how people tackle their issues and make positive changes, someone sitting next to them can discover a new strategy or idea for an issue they are facing. There are also a lot more people nowadays seeking acupuncture for anxiety and depression. Acupuncture is a form of traditional western Chinese medicine, which involves inserting needles into the skin to correspond with certain organs. You put the needles through a specific point in the body and it stimulates the nerve. The nerve then sends signals to the brain and the brain releases neural hormones to make someone feel happy or feel less pain. The idea is that it stimulates the brain and helps the nerves regenerate. Studies have found that there are people who benefit from this process. Both traditional group therapy and acupuncture can be used in place of anti-depressants, which can have harmful side effects. (But can also help people, it can go either way)


McGruder, Juli. H. 2003. “Madness in Zanzibar: An Exploration of Lived Experience.” Methods and Participants : 256-257


Errington-Evans, N. (2011). Acupuncture for anxiety. CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, 18(4), 277-284.

One thought on “Mental Illness and Western Medicine

  1. Hey Matthew,
    I took away some similar points from the readings as you did. I think it’s pretty cool how varied our idea of metal illness it across the world. The people in Zanzibar thought that a god or spirits were the causes of the illness. I was never taught that this was a possibility so it’s not really something that I would consider a reason for being mentally ill. My social and environmental influences while growing up have helped form my opinions. As we age, I think our personal opinions begin to form as well the more we continue to ask questions and think for ourselves.
    I like the point you brought up about people not bringing up their issues they have because they may feel like it’s personal and that they are the only one feeling this way. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for these people. I hope when we enter our professions that we can help people who feel this way. I agree that we can learn new ways to approach problems by observing others methods. With how unique we all are as humans the amount of learning we can do from one another is limitless. Good response Matthew!

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